The First Promethium Complex
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In a groundbreaking study, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have successfully synthesized and characterized the first promethium complex in solution, shedding light on the secrets of this elusive element. The research, which involved the chelation of radioactive promethium-147 with a newly synthesized organic ligand, provides valuable insights into the lanthanide contraction phenomenon and opens new pathways for exploring the properties and applications of this rare earth element.

Promethium's Extreme Rarity

knoxnews.com
knoxnews.com
Promethium is extremely rare due to its lack of stable isotopes and limited natural occurrence. With only about 500-600 grams naturally present in the Earth's crust at any given time, promethium is the rarest naturally occurring lanthanide. This scarcity is attributed to the element's radioactive nature, as all its isotopes undergo radioactive decay, with promethium-145 being the most stable with a half-life of 17.7 years. The absence of stable isotopes makes promethium the last lanthanide to be discovered and the most challenging to study. Consequently, the majority of promethium used in research and applications is synthetically produced in minute quantities, primarily as the isotope promethium-147, which is obtained from the fission of uranium in nuclear reactors.
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Synthesis of Promethium Complex

nature.com
nature.com
The synthesis of the promethium complex relied on the unique resources and expertise available at ORNL, the only producer of promethium-147 in the United States. The researchers bound the radioactive promethium-147, with a half-life of 2.62 years, to specially designed organic molecules called diglycolamide ligands. This meticulous process required the use of a research reactor, hot cells, and supercomputers, as well as the combined knowledge and skills of 18 scientists from various fields. The resulting pink-hued complex, Pm-PyDGA, enabled the first-ever characterization of promethium in solution, filling a significant gap in the understanding of lanthanide chemistry.
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Potential Applications of Promethium

Promethium's unique properties make it a valuable resource in various fields, from medical studies to space exploration. For instance, promethium-147 is used in long-lived nuclear batteries that power spacecraft, ensuring a reliable energy source for extended missions. Additionally, the element has shown promise in radiation therapy, offering potential treatments for certain types of cancer. As scientists continue to unravel the secrets of promethium and its complexes, it is expected that new applications will emerge, leveraging the distinctive chemical and electronic properties of this elusive lanthanide.
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